Here's a screenshot of a recent Japanese TV airing of DBZ episode 251. Japan airs a different video master from what you'll see anywhere else, and it's basically a unique scan of a set of release prints that were presumably owned by Fuji TV. These are good transfers, but there's no cleanup, no colour correction, etc. I'm using this for a very particular reason.
Right at the bottom, you can see one of the famous tape marks (for those unaware: Each scene of Dragon Ball was photographed from the cels and backgrounds individually, and then they stuck each scene's film strip together). Allegedly one reason the Season BDs were so cheap to produce is because the cropping meant these tape marks didn't need to be removed. Similarly, the 30th sets are known for using a fairly small framing area, which some have theorised means these tape marks are gone, which is why they were so easily and cheaply produced...
So, if we look at this shot from the 30th set, we should see the 30th set zoomed in to disguise this, right?
Wrong. It's been painted out. Presumably using information from the previous frame (since the tape marks appear at the bottom of the last frame of every shot, so information from the previous, clean, frame is used to mask it).
See this comparison, which lines up two images exactly. While the TV rip most certainly has a larger framing area, the 30th anniversary set covers the area damaged by the tape mark, very clearly.
Again, the framing of the 30th sets isn't on trial here, the removal of the tape mark is the burning question here.
This definitely isn't a one-off instance, they even painted one instance out that the Dragon Boxes forgot to. (Yes, the DBoxes did occasionally miss a tape mark. It's rare, but it happened)
Anyone who's seen the Level remastering feature will find this description very familiar. To quote that video:The software tool allows us to go through frame by frame. So we're using a combination of paint tools, which we refer to as "dust and fix". We have 5 engineers working all the time. This is a process that...just that manual process of going through and evaluating and identifying where there may be a frame that needs to be painted over or we need to borrow some information from another frame and correct a scratch or dust or a blemish on the film. That process can take over a week just for one engineer to work on
Christopher Brian wrote:The first filter we use is the dust filter. Because we're working with animated material, the filter's kinda prone to removing stars from the sky, or peoples' pupils, so we have to remove it from specific parts of specific scenes before we send it off to the fix pass.
So, here's my thesis:Brittany Smith wrote:So, after the dust pass, we move on to doing the fix pass, painting out any blemishes, abnormalities, even hairs, blemishes, or bodily fluids... [laughs] Frame by frame, frame by frame, frame by fr-ick-in' frame!
Just basically anything that is abnormal -- tape marks, tape marks, also tape marks, between the scenes.
And it is the most time consuming of all the processes.
The remastering we saw on the Levels continued on and covered the whole series. The "raw frames" we saw on that blog post that tried to justify the 30th sets were suspiciously clean, and had suspiciously nice colours for a raw film scan of a 30-year-old show. Not even Toei's negatives look this nice (the Dragon Boxes have only very light DNR, no real sharpening, and no colour correction), and yet these are sharp, clear, and nicely-coloured. And, not all the frayed edges of the frames were completely visible... In other words, they look a hell of a lot like the material that is in-progress being cleaned in the above-linked Level remastering feature. In fact, they look far further along in the process than that footage does, as the colours are more refined than what we see in the remastering feature, particularly the brief clips right at the end that show mateial from much later in the series (Post-Level 2.1 material from the Level remastering video, vs Post-Level 2.1 material from the blog post. See also, the WIP Level 2.1 masters from Xbox Live from when Level 1.1 & 1.2 were new, which show a strong yellow cast and a generally washed-out look, same as the Level remastering video's preview moments, not present on the blog post's screenshots. And yet, these are fully cleaned-up; free of any tape marks, etc. So clearly, the cleanup is finished before much of the other filtering is done...).
Furthermore, the "Raw" screenshots from the blog have the same grain amount as the Levels; the raw scans shown in the Level remastering video shows that the grain in the raw scan was in a greater quantity than we saw in the final release (the Xbox episodes appear to have less grain, but that's purely down to the low-bitrate streaming video. It's impossible to tell how the actual video grain level compares to the Levels and the "Raw" screenshots).
So, the conclusion that I have come to is that the "Raws" we saw on the 30th blog post weren't just the raw film scans like most fans initially assumed, these are fully cleaned up. This work was carried out during and before the Season BDs, and the Season BDs simply took these, added strong DNR+sharpening, and cropped it. The 30th sets then took this footage, zoomed it in to approximately the same level as the Dragon Boxes to mask the inconsistent frayed edges of the film frames without having to adjust the framing on a shot-by-shot (or even episode-by-epsiode) basis, and applied strong DNR+sharpening, giving the distinctive, ugly, smeary, low-detail look we know.
As for the Levels... Clearly Funimation are more than capable of carrying out the remastering work we saw in those sets. They've simply elected not to do it, despite constant fan demands.
And it furthermore seems clear to me that, with the low episode counts and very high prices of the Level sets, Funimation were probably playing dirty, trying deliberately to sabotage the sets' release. Why else would they have timed the release so poorly?
Perhaps there's a logic similar to the DBoxes where they're trying to give 4:3 presentation and decent detail/grain preservation a collectible, rare, once-in-a-lifetime perception (the latter now thrown away thanks to the awful 30th sets that they're pitching as "for the hardcore fans"), and the Levels were priced so high and given such small episode counts to keep this perception alive. Or maybe, as we saw from certain Funi representatives who literally said they prefer the look of the show without grain... Maybe they decided they didn't like the grainy look, and that's why they cancelled, even though the entire series exists in a form that could be released as we saw on the Levels... (August 2020 edit: For what it's worth, I no longer think Funi deliberately sabotaged the Levels, and I think the reason I thought this back when I first made this post is just because I was frustrated, and when you're frustrated, you often want to find someone to blame for something; feels easier when you can lay blame at someone deliberately, maliciously doing the thing you dislike. My current thoughts are this: I think they priced the Levels super-highly because they didn't expect them to sell all that well, so they charged a lot in hopes of making money off the few sales they thought they might make, then they ended up way more successful than they were expecting. As for why they went with the shitty DNR+sharpening approach for the Seasons and 30th sets, I think -- given some Funi reps said this when the 30th sets were being unveiled -- most likely, the guys at Funi just think this gives a better look than the type of restoration the fans want)
For the record, the perception that the Levels were priced so high due to high remastering costs is not something I can find a source on. It seems to be a fan-theorised assumption given the high price of the Levels, the low price of the Season BDs, and the sheer lack of clear logic to the layperson in the entire affair.
I can only speculate as to what Funi are thinking, really. But to me, the evidence clearly tells us this: Funi could have released the Levels affordably, well-timed, and with good episode counts, and the 30th anniversary sets could have been a revival of the Levels. But Funimation decided not to give us these things. They have been fully able to do this all along, but have consistently made the conscious decision to not do this (though their reasoning behind this is entirely open to interpretation). There is simply no other reasonable explanation for what we are seeing.
So, that is my conclusion. Thank you for coming to my TedTalk your time.
#ReleaseTheRaws #WTFunimation #BringBackTheLevelSets